A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a post-Civil War amnesty law does not extend to shield future insurrectionists in a legal bid seeking to disqualify Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) over his alleged role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed a lower court's determination that a federal law from 1872 that granted amnesty to almost all former members of the Confederacy barred Cawthorn from facing a lawsuit brought under the 14th Amendment.

“We hold only that the 1872 Amnesty Act does not categorically exempt all future rebels and insurrectionists from the political disabilities that otherwise would be created by Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Judge Toby Heytens, an appointee of President Joe Biden, wrote for the panel of judges on the appeals court.


Cawthorn became the third-youngest member of Congress at the age of 25 after he assumed office in 2021 but will no longer be in the race for reelection this year after he lost his GOP primary last week. As a result, the appeals court's decision has little impact on the North Carolina representative, though it could matter in similar future constitutional challenges.

Two other judges on the panel, James Wynn, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, and Julius Richardson, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, joined the judgment and wrote separate concurring opinions.

The lawsuit was brought forth earlier this year by a coalition of constitutional scholars and liberal activists who challenged the North Carolina representative's eligibility to run for reelection based on the "disqualification clause" of the 14th Amendment, which says any officeholder who endorses an insurrection should be blocked from returning to office.

"This ruling cements the growing judicial consensus that the 1872 Amnesty Act does not shield the insurrectionists of January 6, 2021 — including Donald Trump — from the consequences of their actions under the Fourteenth Amendment, and provides no basis to block state proceedings seeking to exclude insurrectionists from the ballot," wrote Free Speech For People, an advocacy group that challenged Cawthorn.

The 4th Circuit Court's ruling could have major implications in similar cases, as the decision undermines arguments made by attorneys for Cawthorn and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who is also defending against Jan. 6-related challenges brought to federal court. Free Speech For People has also said it will target Trump if he runs for president office again in 2024.

However, the appeals court said it would "express no opinion" on whether Cawthorn engaged in insurrection when he attended the former president's rally outside the White House on the day the U.S. Capitol was breached by rioters.

Cawthorn, Greene, and other Republicans who have faced similar challenges have denied any wrongdoing related to the Jan. 6 riot, claiming that such challenges are a partisan plan to remove candidates preferred by the voters in their districts.


Earlier this month, a judge in Georgia ruled that Greene, who testified under oath, was qualified to run for reelection.

The Washington Examiner contacted an attorney for Cawthorn but did not receive a response.